UK & World News

  • 28 July 2014, 1:02

Fighting Halts Police Visit To MH17 Crash Site

Plans for a team of unarmed Dutch and Australian police officers to visit the site of the Malaysia Airlines plane disaster have been cancelled.

Fighting around the site in eastern Ukraineprevented the visit, said Alexander Hug, the deputy head of a monitoring team from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

He said it was too dangerous for them to go there from their current location in the rebel-held city of Donetsk.

The vast crash scene, which covers 20 square miles, is currently controlled by pro-Russian separatists who are battling Ukrainian government forces in a months-long conflict.

A Ukrainian defence official said his troops were trying to clear areas around the site near the village of Grabovo.

There was reportedly fighting at several locations, including near the town of Debaltseve, 15 miles northwest of the crash scene.

Dozens of international officers, in a Dutch-led team, want to secure the site for investigators to carry out a forensic examination and help recover the remains of victims.

Crash investigators have been unable to "properly deploy" and collect evidence due to ongoing security concerns, says the Malaysian Prime Minister's office.

But Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte has ruled out sending an armed international mission to secure the site.

"Getting the military upper hand for an international mission in this area is, according to our conclusion, not realistic," he told reporters in The Hague.

Mr Hug said the police mission will reconsider resuming operations if security improves, which could happen as early as Monday.

All 298 people on board flight MH17, heading to Kuala Lumpur from Amsterdam, were killed in the disaster on July 17.

Western countries blame rebels for shooting down the airliner with a missile, mistaking it for a Ukrainian plane.

But the separatists deny any involvement.

The remains of 227 victims have been taken to the Netherlands for identification.

Australia's Prime Minister Tony Abbott has said more remains are still at the site and he expected police would only spend two or three weeks there.

"This is a volatile situation," he said. "This is contested ground and we don't want to be there any longer than is absolutely necessary."

Dozens of Malaysian police are also expected to head to the crash site later this week.